Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The Day I Almost Got Lynched in Tennessee

The year was 1995. My friend Randy, his wife Kelly and I were on a cross country road trip from Boston to Las Vegas. We had planned several stops along the way to see different parts of our great country and experience different aspects of American culture. One such stop was about an hour outside Knoxville, Tennessee. Randy had a friend from the Air Force who lived there and insisted that we stop and stay with him and his family on their farm for a night or two. The highlight was to be our attendance at a University of Tennessee football game that weekend against the Georgia Bulldogs.

It is a strange thing, this fascination the people in the south have with college football. It's like a religion. In New England, college football is not real popular. I've always followed it - I'm a huge Notre Dame fan - but not to the extent that the people down south do. We arrived in Knoxville (the home of the University of Tennessee)the morning of the game and literally every other car was adorned in some sort of UT decoration. Many had UT flags flying out of the windows. Some even had huge UT decals on the side doors. I'd never seen anything like it.

Since there are NO Dunkin Donuts anywhere south of the Mason Dixon line, we were forced to conduct all of our coffee refill stops at...wait for it...the Waffle House. We still had an hour or so until we had to meet Randy's friend so we decided to stop and have breakfast at a Waffle House in downtown Knoxville. For a Yankee, going into a Waffle House is like stepping into another world - a world full of rednecks and truckers. We sat in one of the booths and perused the menu. When the waitress finally came over to take our order, she looked at me with disgust. Before I knew what was going on, she yelled out, in a thick southern drawl, "Hey y'all, we got us a Bulldog fan over here!". Upon hearing this, every employee in the place came charging over to our table and started giving me the business. After a minute of examination, I realized what the problem was. Being an ardent fan of international soccer, I was wearing a Manchester United soccer t-shirt. Man United's colors are red and black. UT was playing the Georgia Bulldogs that day and their colors just happened to be...you guessed it.

So there we are in the Waffle House in downtown Knoxville surrounded by angry employees and every customer in the place is staring over at us giving us dirty looks. It actually got pretty tense for a few moments when I really did think I might be subjected to bodily harm. The funniest guy was the cook, an older gentleman with gray hair, greased and slicked back, clad in a dirty white t-shirt and matching apron with a lit cigarette dangling from his lower lip. I tried to explain that we weren't Bulldog fans. I said "No, no, it's a British soccer team! I'm not even from the south, I'm from New England!". At this the old cook replied, in such a thick accent that I almost couldn't understand him, "New England huh? He's prob'ly a gawd-damned Notre Dame fan". All I could do was look away and try not to laugh, which surely would have meant my demise.

Eventually I went out to the car and changed into a plain white Adidas shirt. We ate our breakfast with many angry, suspecting eyes glued to us. It was very disconcerting. We paid our bill and got the hell outta Dodge as fast as we could. When we met up with Randy's friend Shaun and told him what happened, he laughed and said "Rik, what are you doing, trying to get yourself killed?"

That night we watched sophomore wonder Peyton Manning and the University of Tennessee Volunteers beat the Georgia Bulldogs in overtime. To this day, It remains the only college football game I've ever been to.



Michael said...

I've never understood why people worship sport so much.. that they're actually getting so worked up as soon as you either don't like the sport, or God forbid, you're rooting for another team.. Some of them get aggresive even like you wrote.. that's just crazy.. get a life people! It's not like Football is a life or death kind of thing like.. say.. food? :D

Ed Abbey said...

I flew down to Texas for a job interview and the company president picked me up at the airport and drove me the 35 minutes back to town. Along the way, he pointed out every high school football stadium and one sixty foot tall cross built on a mountain by his father. He explained that it had only been meant to be thirty feet tall but when his father fell from a ladder building it and was hospitalized with severe injuries, he had promised God to add another thirty feet if he survived. Then to top it all off, sometime during the formal sit down interview they asked me if I was a God fearing man and loved the sport of football. God and football are very big in the south. Thank God I was wearing a suit and tie instead of the wrong team's colors.

Rik said...

Micheal - Yeah, it's not quite on the level of Celtic-Rangers or Red Sox-Yankees, but they can get out of hand down there sometimes. Of course, European and South American soccer (football) are in a league of their own in that respect.

ED - Being from the Midwest, I was sure you'd have an interesting story to add to the mix here. Don't disappoint me!


Anonymous said...

I once went to a NY Jets game in NJ. I am from NE and wasn't wearing any team insignia at all for my beloved Patriots. I had heard how ruthless the fans of NY could be on a person having the gall to show up at the Meadowlands in anything other than the color green. A couple of people behind us, heard us talking (softly, I might add) and figured out that we were from NE. They began throwing cups filled with ice at us. One hit me in the temple. I finally turned around and said something (not very ladylike; can't write it here) but it just goes to show how crazy and stupid people can be.